Adam Barnwell, Special Sergeant

My name is Adam Barnwell and I’m a serving Special Sergeant stationed at Parkside Police Station in Cambridge and have been since joining the city response team on August 3, 2010.

I work as a web developer at a large and successful games company located in the Science Park, Cambridge, and I chose to apply as a Special because wanted to do something in law enforcement and contribute to the community.

Having passed the physical, medical, written, and numeracy assessment and interview, I was measured for clothing and equipment. After my measurements, photo and fingerprints had been taken, I went straight into training which consisted of a mixture of classroom and practical training sessions, situated at Cambridgeshire Constabulary HQ in Huntingdon.

The training sessions were designed to fit around my day job and as such, were scheduled between 6pm and 9pm every Wednesday and 9am and 5pm every Sunday for just over three months.

During these training sessions, I learnt an incredible amount that I simply wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t signed up to be an officer. The training sessions included topics such as law, community engagement, defence techniques, software training and equipment handling to name a few.

On my first day ‘on the job’ we went out of foot and deployed on Sydney Street in Cambridge, stopping private vehicles from contravening the emergency vehicles, taxis and bus route through the one way system around the city centre.

This was my first taste of conflict as the majority of drivers got irate at the amount of time the police had taken from them and they were being fined. It was a real trial by fire as a week or so before hand I was sitting in a classroom learning about various conflict resolution models and now I was putting it into very real practice. Under the watchful eye of my supervisor, I issued 15 tickets and spent four hours ‘on the beat’.

My next milestone came in the form of my first 999 call requiring emergency response.

Just as I finished briefing with the regular team I was attached to, we received our first job from control room stating that a caller could hear screams from next door and we had to respond.

Before I knew it, my partner was racing through Cambridge city and out into rural Cambridgeshire with blue lights and sirens going, navigating around traffic and going through red lights. Everything felt unnatural as we drove on the offside of the road for the majority of our journey to avoid traffic and drove through red lights.

I immediately understood how fast it seemed from inside the car in comparison to how it looked from outside as I was pumped so full of adrenaline I missed a lot of what the control room was relaying and didn’t let go of my death grip on the door handle until we had arrived.

Another early highlight was the opportunity to crew with a dog handler and his dog ‘Troy’. I donned a flight suit and went up in the Police helicopter over Cambridge and dealt with a driver failing to stop. I attached to the CSI unit and dusted for prints and shoe impressions after a burglary.

After my first year I had accrued roughly 500 hours with Cambridgeshire Constabulary and had learnt so much. We had training sessions every month to go over paperwork and policy changes in detail and all of it was fitted around my day job, only take place in evenings and weekends. I had dealt with more than I ever had imagined I would and overcame situations I certainly wouldn’t have been able to without the backing of the Constabulary.

Over the next year of my Specials career, I received training to become part of the Police Support Unit, more commonly known as ‘riot police’.

At the beginning of my third year, I received ‘independent patrol status’ which meant I could deploy to incidents on my own without the need for another officer.

During my third year I was one of the officers lining the route for the Olympic torch and protected VIP’s as they travelled to the games in London. I made the biggest drug bust of my career to date whilst on patrol with another Special, taking £10,000 worth of cocaine off the streets and received personal thanks from the Chief Constable for doing so.

At the end of my third year, I made my TV debut on episode 1 and 8 of ‘The Specials’ on BBC1 and enjoyed a bit of newspaper coverage along the way.

The Constabulary then paid for me to attend a national Specials event in Birmingham and it really drove home how many Specials there were nationwide and how Cambridgeshire Constabulary compared against the rest.

Coming close to my fourth year as a Special I received a promotion to Acting Special Sergeant and was able to accomplish something I had wanted to do for a very long time.

I was given a seat on the Constabulary’s response driving course. Each individual they put on the course costs the Constabulary up to £7,000 and the waiting list is years long so it was a real honour to be considered.

I got two weeks off work from my employer and for two weeks between 8am and 6pm every day, I was taught in undercover and marked vehicles, the competencies and skills needed to drive emergency vehicles in emergency conditions.

Just over four years in now and I’m a Special Sergeant at Parkside. I’ve received the standard three month training plus extra training in counter terrorism, fast roads training, basic driving permit, policing of football events, PSU (riot) policing, fingerprint systems, intelligence submission, property management, conflict resolution, legal powers and policy, response driving permit, defence techniques, lethal force techniques, first aid, CPR, speed detection laser devices, initial actions at major crime scenes, CSI, international warrants, leadership training and many more.

No shift is the same, every incident throws a new curve ball your way and you have an excellent team of regular and special officers backing you up every step of the way. I have an understanding with my employer that an emergency occurs and numbers are needed, I can deploy and I can leave work and start earlier by a few hours on certain occasions to assist with my policing responsibilities.

If you’re on the fence, I would suggest you apply to come on a ride along. If you’re thinking of applying, I suggest you do so without hesitation as it’s the best thing I ever did.

Find out more about becoming a Special at




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